Relocation is defined as a process whereby a community’s housing, assets, and public infrastructure are rebuilt in another location. Often times people are relocated to other safe locations when a disaster occurs such that they are displaced almost permanently from their place of abode. This relocation is usually carried out by governmental or non-governmental bodies in a bid to protect them from future disasters. However, what happens after the relocation is hardly made a priority. Most times, especially in this part of the world, the unfortunate victims of circumstance are left with little or no means of recuperating from the unfortunate mishap that befell them.
That brings us to these questions: How do we assess the success of relocation after a disaster?
What are the factors that guard against a successful relocation?
Hence, juxtaposing the factors that are barriers to a successful relocation against those that ensures a successful relocation will help assess the success of a relocation after disaster.
Factors that guard against a successful relocation
1. Inadequacy of new sites: One of the chief reasons for relocation failure is under-weighting the welfare of the population as a criterion for the selection of the relocation site. Inappropriate land may be chosen for a relocation project because it can be acquired quickly, is owned or controlled by government, or is easily accessible with topography that favors rapid construction. For similar reasons, people resettled to protect them from one risk (e.g., insurgency/terrorists attack) may find themselves exposed to new ones (e.g., risks to livelihood, high crime, lack of services).
2. Distance from livelihoods and social networks: A lack of affordable land in areas close to sources of employment often necessitates relocation to peripheral areas where land is less expensive. Yet a key cause for unsustainable relocation solutions is the distance of the new site from vital resources (grazing land, food sources), relatives, social networks, livelihoods, and markets. In addition, bringing infrastructure and services to these remote areas may be extremely expensive, even when the land is cheap. The full cost analysis of new sites should include both infrastructure investment and the provision of services, such as public transportation.
3. Socio-culturally inappropriate settlement layouts: Housing design, layouts, and construction are often to blame for the rejection or failure of post-disaster relocation projects, particularly in rural areas. The following are frequently cited reasons for the abandonment of a new site by a resettled community.
• Settlements are designed using unfamiliar land use patterns that do not permit the clustering of kin and neighborhood groups which is vital to social cohesion in rural areas
• There is insufficient space for tool sheds, livestock, and other agricultural needs, as well as poor soil conditions, along with lack of irrigation, tools, agricultural inputs, and livestock, making it extremely difficult to re-establish farm-based livelihoods in agricultural areas.
• Poor access and lack of public transportation, particularly to markets and social facilities.
• Conflicts and competition with host or adjacent communities that do not receive any benefit from the relocation and lack structures for the governance of resources.
• Social conflicts caused by moving communities with different ethnic, religious, or social backgrounds into close proximity.
• Widows and female-headed households exposed to sexual and physical abuse.
Most of these risks also apply to reconstruction in-situ if the reconstruction plan entails land consolidation, changes in settlement layout, or introduction of new house designs and building technologies. A relocation plan (albeit abbreviated) may be needed even in these situations.
4. Lack of community participation: Consulting the people of a community, involving them in the selection and planning of a site, understanding their needs and values, and gaining insight from local experience and knowledge of the local environment can help reduce relocation risks. Importing outside labor to construct new settlements discourages community participation and deprives members of the community of employment opportunities. A lack of community participation can also hinder the development of a personal sense of ownership or responsibility for the home and settlement, which may lead to feelings of alienation and a prolonged dependency on external aid.
5. Under-budgeting of relocation costs: Underestimating the cost of relocation is common and can undermine the entire process. Both hard costs (infrastructure, housing construction) and soft costs (facilitation, training, social assistance, temporary public services) should be estimated using conservative assumptions, and funded over a period of years, until communities fully adapt to their new location and livelihoods are re-established. The estimates should include adequate provision for costs associated with assisting squatters or those without proof of land ownership and other land tenure issues.
What Contributes to Successful Relocation?
Relocation of communities requires risk mitigation through well-planned and adequately financed programs that include such elements as land-for-land exchange, employment generation, ensured food security, improved access to health services, transportation to jobs, restoration of common properties, and support for community and economic development.
Relocation is more likely to be successful when:
• Affected communities participate in critical relocation and implementation decisions (site selection, identification of basic needs, settlement planning, housing designs, and implementation)
• Livelihoods are not site-specific and so are not disrupted.
• Water, public transport, health services, markets, and schools are accessible and affordable.
• People are able to bring with them items of high emotional, spiritual, or cultural value (religious objects, salvaged building parts, statuary or other local landmarks)
• People belonging to the same community are resettled together to a new site.
• Emotional, spiritual, and cultural attachment to the old site is not excessively high.
• Housing designs, settlement layouts, natural habitat, and community facilities conform to a community’s way of life.
• Social, environmental, and hazard risk assessments confirm that risk cannot be mitigated in the old location, while the community can be assured of the suitability of the relocation site.
• Communication with target groups is frequent and transparent, and mechanisms to resolve grievances are effective.
• Relocation and assistance to mitigate its economic impacts are adequately funded over a reasonable period of time.
Relocating people from disaster prone areas whether its man-made disaster or otherwise is no child’s play.
Nonetheless, if people or communities must be relocated, then the process should be carried out judiciously. At least let the affected people or communities have a form of respite and not a situation where they would wish their lives had been taken in the disaster.
Whatever is worth doing at all is worth doing well.